University of Iowa

Finding Your Threads: Shaping and Structuring Nonfiction

Weeklong July 14 to July 19 2019

Annie Dillard famously said, “The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out.” If you have a nonfiction or memoir project in progress, you probably agree. But you may be asking: how do I decide? I have all this material, but how do I shape it? Where do I begin and end? Which parts do I put in and which do I leave out?


To find answers, we will focus on identifying three to five threads or themes that run all the way through each essay or book, creating a warp that unifies the writing and provides narrative structure. Once you have identified your thematic threads, it will be easier to make the call—In or Out.


Designed to help you step back and gain perspective on the process of structuring and completing a memoir or nonfiction project, this workshop is a place to explore structure through writing assignments and to get constructive feedback that clarifies the overarching goals and themes of your project. Don’t have a complete draft? Worried your project is some weird hybrid? No problem—write hard and bring what you’ve got. Join us to wrestle with structure, find unifying threads, experiment with narrative, and clarify your goals in good company.


In this workshop we will generate new writing through guided exercises and prompts; provide feedback on writing you bring from home or produce in our week.

Hybrid Forms